Japanese Prime Minister announced Monday the nationwide extension until May 31 state of emergency, government deeming it premature to raise it in the face of the progression of the coronavirus epidemic.
“I have to be direct and sincere with you and ask you to maintain your efforts for a certain time”, said Shinzo Abe during a press conference, “for the moment, the decrease in the number of infected people is not enough. “
M. Abe introduced the state of emergency in Tokyo and six other regions on April 7 and then extended it to the entire Japanese archipelago. It was to end on Wednesday.
But the Prime Minister stressed that the number of new cases always exceeds the number of patients that hospitals are discharging daily across the country.
“We need to bring the number of people infected every day below this level,” in order to reduce the pressure on the country's health system, he added.
The head of the Japanese government nevertheless left the door open for the lifting of the state of emergency before the end of the month, after a review of the situation planned around 14 May in all regions. He also hinted that May would be the last limit, the month in which Japan “headed for exit.”
The state of emergency is much less restrictive in Japan than in certain European countries and the United States. It allows governors to call on residents of their prefecture to stay at home and certain businesses to close. The authorities do not have the power to impose restrictions on the freedom of movement of citizens and no sanctions are foreseen.
The government should, according to Japanese media, call the residents of 13 higher risk prefectures, including the largest cities in Japan, to continue to reduce person-to-person contact by 80% and to respect various barrier gestures. But museums, libraries and some other public places should be able to reopen with provisions against the spread of the disease.
In the rest of Japan, local governments are said to be empowered to alleviate their demands regarding small gatherings and business closings, but residents will continue to be asked not to leave their prefecture. Bars and nightclubs will be asked to stay closed.
The situation concerning the schools, many of which have been closed since March, is not yet clearly defined, with officials having recently mentioned a possible reopening in phases, certain levels resuming before the others.
Japan, with a population of around 126 million and which recorded its first case in mid-January, reports since the start of the epidemic more than 15 000 infections total and 510 deaths, much less than figures published by many other countries.
Hospitals powered up
But medical associations warn that hospitals are already under stress and could quickly find themselves overwhelmed by a progression of the disease.
The number of intensive care beds in Japan is estimated at 6500 or 5 for 100 000 inhabitants, less than half the rate observed in Italy, indicates the Japanese Society of Intensive Medicine.
Measures have been taken to alleviate pressure on the health system, such as putting patients suffering from mild coronavirus symptoms in hotels rather than keeping them in overcrowded hospitals.
The government has also announced that it is increasing testing capacities but remains criticized for the relatively low number of tests carried out, in particular because of restrictive criteria.
As of Monday at midday 184 586 very exactly had been tested since the start of the epidemic, of which 15 057 had been positive, according to Ministry of Health. The government is targeting a capacity of 20 000 tests per day but this number was only a few thousand.